Writing Emotions into Short Erotica

Writing Short 15k+

...otherwise known as the workshop I'm not going to do. Not because it's impossible, but because it's just a matter of understanding how the emotional structure works in a short--in other words, it's a long blog post.

Shorts are difficult to write because the focus is different. You have to pick your structure before you start, and I don’t mean “structure” like in acts, or turning points, but “time frame”. How long, in actual passing story time, does your story last? The room to explore a dual character arc is built into fulls, whereas in a short story, the character is further along, the arc is more abrupt, or the story ends on the implication the arc is completed later. In other words? A 15k word story, which is about  60 pages, shouldn’t take place over two decades because to get it down to 15k you’d need to summarize it.

The same goes for multi-generational sagas that take place on two continents or in a paranormal short, include the creation of a reluctant vampire, the vampire parent’s ambition to take over the word and kick-ass vigilantes. Short time periods are more effective, and if they include a time lapse, should have a reason the two “pieces” go together. It shouldn’t be part A and part D, but part A and part B, separated by a time lapse that’s important so part B can happen.

If the hero and heroine part, time passes, and they meet again a week later, it’d be stronger to create a reason for one of them to take action as they part the first time.

If John and Maggie argue Maggie storms out and they discuss the situation a week later, the story fizzles. But if John and Maggie argue, Maggie storms out, John listens to her car start, realizes he can’t live without her and does something to bring them back together right then and there, that leads up to a nicely wrapped story that ends when it should, maintains tension and “shows” the growth of the relationship for that space of time. Although--like in a longer story--John should be one way at the beginning of the story and different at the end. He’s got to have an arc, or she's got to have an arc, no matter how small. Taking it as a given something keeps them apart.

It’s slice-of-life, but it’s appropriate for that word count.

A longer word count can sustain more story. From your “core” story event, in this case the argument, you can either push back, or go forward and give them complications.

If John is afraid of deep water and Maggie isn’t, and their core event is that Maggie is a world-class swimmer, competes at the Olympic level and wants John to join her so they can spend more time together, then in a shorter story you’d start with that argument and move on from there. Because of space constraints--short stories are linear.

If John rushes out of his apartment, down the stairs and trips on the last one (because he’s a klutz) Maggie stops her car to watch him, then slowly (against her better judgment) goes over to help. He reaches up to hold on to her, they talk, she tries to get away, he tries to stop her, and they end up sitting on the bottom step as the day turns to night and the stars come out? Once the emotions are in place, word count happens. The quantity of events doesn't matter. The intensity does. A couple of well written, carefully explored scenes that take place in one or two locations has more impact than trying to squeeze a Bourne Identity style travelogue down into a handful of pages.

If you expand it to 40k, then the argument would be the point where everything builds to a head, then the shorter story (of 15k) happens. How many events you add and how far back you go depends on how much space you have. If you want to start with the argument and go forward, then you’d show the complications of their choice to stay together, but there would have to be another conclusion later where things build to a head.

If events and word count sync, it should naturally become three acts. Subplots, secondaries, random life questions and soapboxes are like pepper. Think small. Does it "need" to be there? Can it be lifted out, or does it need to be surgically removed? Anything that can go, should.

Adding in the Emotional Structure 

It's easy to have sex without emotional connections, because it's just sex. Before the hero and heroine jump in bed, the story needs to slow down to show the growth of some kind of relationship. In other words--the hero and heroine need to connect emotionally.

If John comes up on Maggie and she does the normal "take inventory of his assets", I'd suggest having her look away. It's not important how he looks in the beginning. She can have an impression, but actually looking? Nah. They need to interact in a way that doesn't automatically make you think hot 'n now. Maybe they talk, or he offers to change the gasket in her oil-burning car, or he picks up the swimming cap she drops out in the parking lot and returns it to her.

They need to have "more". More time to grow towards each other. More, if not conversation--simply being with each other. Pretend they've always lived in the same apartment complex. Maybe he finds her crying from exhaustion, and realizes how much swimming means to her. Maybe he just sits next to her and waits until she’s finished and no one has ever done that before. Maybe he hands her some Kleenex, she nods and takes another, harder look and invites him to a meet, only to realize he has a phobia the size of Pennsylvania. What if she starts carrying her bathing suit in a gym bag instead of wearing it under her clothes? What if he realizes she's doing it to help him cope with her swimming?

And what if their first contact is his hand on her bag and a simple, "You don't have to do that."

Maybe their hands touch,  she sucks in her breath, finally stares into his eyes--notices the sheen of sweat on his cheekbone and with her other hand reaches up to brush it away?

What if he grabs her wrist? And looks into her eyes. And she looks down (still with her wrist in his hand) and away because she can't speak, he tips her chin up and their gazes meet. And..slowly...they start making love. (It can be hot love, lol)

....because at that point, they're emotionally connected.

So when he leaves or they part ways--because no one can have sex 24/7, they still have that connection and yearning “under” whatever happens in the rest of the story.

The plot doesn't need to be there except in a very limited way because the story isn't about winning a place on the Olympic swim team. It's about the growth of the relationship—which includes hot sex--between John and Maggie, despite her need to swim, and his fear of deep water. The action is secondary and forms a frame.


Chellesie B said...

I've noticed that there are rarely more than 1 or maybe 2 secondary characters, and they are much less flushed out than in a novel.

jodi said...

very true. There just isn't any room in such a short story, although you're right that if they're there it's rare that they have the kind of detailing that the hero or heroine has. :)

Day Snowbear said...

This is the first article that makes sense taking into consideration all the aspects of novel writing I have been taught!

Jodi Henley said...

whew, Day. I totally forget I wrote this (over seven years ago). But yes--looking back, it's still the way it works. And I still see a lot of empires rising and falling in 20k, when the story should be tightly focused on the protags.

If you're interested, I work on this series called Fettered by Lilia Moon

They're about ...39k? Incredible writing and mechanics, beautiful arcs and emotional structure. Great reviews (and Amazon ranking) If you're interested in short erotic romance, you might want to look at the way she handles the lead up into the core scene and the fall out from it. They all have a teaspoon of external conflict, and a ton load of internals. Just the way they should be. (and thanks for dropping by my blog)